For years, the Maharashtra state government has been trying to rope in the Madia Gond community in Gadchiroli district into mainstream education, but the lack of connection between Madia language, and Hindi or Marathi, has proven a major hindrance. This is what inspired Sumit More, a Pune-based software engineer to develop an app, called Akshar, to help bridge the linguistic gap.
A Madia child tries out the app in a makeshift device built to teach Marathi. PIC COurtesy/Sumit More
"Most of the schools in Gadchiroli district use Marathi as a medium for teaching, but since there’s no connection between Marathi and Madia language, most of the tribal children, repeat class until they master the language," says More.
Sumit More, developer of the app
At that time, More was a volunteer at Lok Biradari Prakalp, an NGO run by Dr Prakash Amte in Hemalkasa village in Gadchiroli. "The NGO runs its own schools at Hemalkasa village, where it teaches Madia children in their dialect, but the geographical impact was very little. Gadchiroli has 140 Madia villages. It was then that we decided to build the app. We chose Android because it is the most popular smart phone OS," he adds.
With support from the NGO and some linguistic experts, More built Akshar, that would allow Madia children to learn Marathi language via their own dialect. "What the app does is creates a bridge between the Madia language and Marathi, using pictures, audio and videos. The app helps children learn elementary Marathi that allows them to get into mainstream education," says More.
The trials for the app started in January 2015 with 10 schools managed by Lok Biradari Group, and now the NGO is planning to make it available in all schools across Gadchiroli.
"Madias are one of the oldest tribal communities. They have been cut-off from mainstream education for a long time.
It’s important that they are included. We have been studying the effectiveness of the app, and so far, we have received very positive results," adds More, who now runs his own start-up NonStop IO with Saurav Gawande.
The app is available offline only, and restricted for usage by the NGO. It recently received a special mention at the Mobile for Good Awards 2015.